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Alyn Shipton

Alyn Shipton (1972, English) is a Research Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and both a presenter and producer of jazz programmes for BBC Radio 3.

Alyn Shipton portrait

After reading English, Alyn left the Hall and entered a career in publishing, and was variously a teenage fiction, school textbook and academic editor, nurturing many writers into print on a variety of subjects. As a writer and editor himself, he was the Consultant Editor of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, and has had a lifelong interest in oral history, starting with the Brighton Writing Adult Literacy Collective in the 1970s, and subsequently editing the memoirs of several musicians, including Danny Barker, Doc Cheatham and George Shearing. His most recent oral histories are the autobiographies of jazz trombonist Chris Barber and the 1960s pop singer Billy J. Kramer.

His first biography was of Fats Waller (1988), which has scarcely been out of print since. His life of Bud Powell (written with Alan Groves) was the first English language biography of the pianist, and his book Groovin’ High, portraying the life of Dizzy Gillespie, won the 1999 ARSC award for the best research of the year. His monumental New History of Jazz, published in 2001 (and revised into a second edition in 2007), was the Jazz Journalists Association Book of the Year, and won Alyn the Jazz Writer of the Year title in the British Jazz Awards. From 1992-2012 he was the jazz critic of The Times. Having also written for the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and Gramophone, he currently has a monthly column in Jazzwise magazine.

After taking a PhD in music at Oxford Brookes, he is now Lecturer in Jazz History at the Royal Academy of Music, where he holds a research fellowship. A talented jazz bassist himself, he leads the Buck Clayton Legacy Band, playing music bequeathed to him by the famous American trumpeter. Alyn can be heard each week on Radio 3 presenting Jazz Record Requests, and he is also the executive producer of the Sunday Morning classical music programme as well as the weekly late-night show Jazz Now.

His recent literary work has been a return to biography, with lives of the songwriter Jimmy McHugh (2009), the entertainer Cab Calloway (2010) and the first ever biography of the singer Harry Nilsson (2013), which won the 2014 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research on Popular Music; and a Deems Taylor ASCAP award as best pop biography of 2013. He is currently working on a history of the connections between visual art and jazz.

 

"I was inspired to become a biographer by a talk given by Michael Holroyd at Modern Art Oxford in 1973. The English course itself gave me the discipline to write tidy first drafts, to length and on time, with no rewrites or revisions. This discipline has been an essential element in writing overnight concert reviews for the Times for the last twenty years, and in writing up the research (the interesting bit) in my biographies."